|Saturday, 16 December 2017|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 09-02-26
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 26 February 2009 Issue No: 3132
 PM orders deep cuts in state spendingAddressing his Cabinet on Wednesday, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis stressed the need to eliminate wasteful public sector spending so that the Greek economy might weather the global economic crisis. Presenting ministers and deputy ministers with a 12-point plan for trimming state spending, he stressed the need for full cooperation and steely determination in order to attain the twin objectives of supporting growth without jeopardising fiscal stability.
"Absolute fiscal discipline is needed by all ... no delays or oversights in the initiatives decided can be tolerated," the premier said. He also underlined that there were no "magic solutions" for dealing with the crisis and that dogmatism - whether statist ideologies or neoliberal obsessions - could not provide the answer.
"When the crisis creates new and different needs, new and different measures are required," he noted.
Summarising the impact of the global crisis on Greece, Karamanlis said that its repercussions were affecting the country increasingly strongly, with immense pressure on growth, employment and public finances.
"Our economy does not allow us to do the things that we want, to the degree that we want them," the premier stressed, adding that the government was now concerned with how to weather this storm with the fewest possible losses.
Karamanlis underlined that a fundamental priority was to maintain growth, even at low rates, and use every means possible to ensure that the economic forecasts fulfilled were those of the government rather than the European Commission, as had occurred in the past.
Listing the measures taken to support sectors stricken by the crisis, he emphasised that the ministers involved had made a commitment to fully and immediately implement the decisions he had made in this direction.
The premier then referred to public works being carried out throughout the country, saying that they constituted the largest infrastructure programme that Greece had ever known, while underlining that all ministries must activate EU programmes related to their brief and that everything must be done even more quickly than before.
Turning to the need for fiscal reform, Karamanlis said that his government had inherited an oversize public debt that had to be reduced and he called on all ministries to respond to this need.
"Absolute fiscal discipline by all is demanded and I am categorical about this. We have outlined specific actions and in these actions there is no room for delays or oversights," Karamanlis emphasised.
Outlining the 12 measures for reducing spending, Karamanlis called for the following:
1. Mandatory collaboration by all ministries with the government's general secretariat in order to immediately begin the abolition and merger of state-sector organisations and enterprises, which now number in excess of 1,000. The premier called for immediate results, within the next four months.
2. A 10 percent reduction by all ministries in elastic spending, by itself expected to save 500 million euros.
3. Strict adherence by all ministries supervising public utilities to the plan for public sector reform.
4. Freezing state-sector recruitments, except in health and education.
5. A 10 percent reduction in the cost of temporary contracts and project contracts signed by the state during 2009.
6. That the relevant ministries take charge of enforcing legislation for the control of spending by local authorities, hospitals and social insurance funds.
7. That an integrated system for health-sector procurements be fully activated.
8. That the ministries responsible speed up the process to computerise procedures for controlling the writing of prescriptions.
9. Closer cooperation by all ministries with the national economy ministry in order to create a single service to pay the salaries of civil servants.
10. The immediate introduction of a maximum ceiling on executive salaries in the broader public sector, equal to the salary of a ministry general secretary. "Anyone that doesn't agree can go home," the premier added.
11. Reducing the costs of bureaucracy by 25 percent.
12. Further enhancing controls against tax evasion.
Apart from the above measures, Karamanlis emphasised the need to sharply crack down on graft, incompetence and corruption whenever this appeared, calling on ministers to constantly monitor the agencies under their supervision.
"There can be no tolerance for phenomena of inefficiency, or inadequacy or negligence. Sources of corruption that are found should be mercilessly rooted out. Take additional measures today, not tomorrow," he exhorted members of his government.
Finally, he called on ministers to cooperate more closely with MPs and avoid creating bad impressions and disappointing citizens over secondary issues, adding that any form of internal bickering was unthinkable.
Summing up, Karamanlis underlined that dealing with the repercussions of the global crisis was a "national target" in which "no one can be left behind".
"In the face of a national goal there is no room for either party, or electoral or personal ambitions. There is no room for other priorities and other thoughts," he stressed.
 PASOK on PM's statementsThe main opposition PASOK party criticised on Wednesday the spending cuts announced by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis while addressing his cabinet earlier in the day.
"For five years the government has not proceeded to any spending cuts, something which it had promised," party spokesman George Papaconstantinou said at this daily press briefing. He also wondered whether "the cuts are going to be made by those who failed to do them in the past."
"What the country needs is a real change and not disguises such as those happening in carnival festivities," the spokesman added.
Regarding Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis's talks in Washington and her meeting Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Papaconstantinou said that PASOK expected from Bakoyannis to promote Greek issues on all levels "so as to have a stronger support to Greek rights in the broader region."
 SYRIZA criticises spending cuts announced by governmentCoalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) Parliamentary group leader Alekos Alavanos on Wednesday criticised the spending cuts earlier announced by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis while addressing his cabinet.
"I think the government is moving in the wrong direction," Alavanos said, claiming that the measures essentially amounted to a reduction of spending on contracts to hire temporary staff at most ministries having social and developmental activity.
According to Alavanos, the government should have first reduced armaments spending that was imposed by major contractors and did not enhance the country's security.
"It should look at securing funds from big businesses and review taxation of profits, which it has reduced to trivial levels," he added.
Alavanos also voiced opposition to a ruling by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice in favour of scrapping positive discrimination that allowed women in Greece to retire earlier than men.
 U.S. Secretary of State Clinton welcomes FM BakoyannisWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T.Ellis)
Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis met here on Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Welcoming Bakoyannis at their first meeting for talks, Clinton said: "I am very glad welcoming a friend in Washington and at the State Department. She is not a stranger neither to the city nor to the Department. It is an honour for me to welcome you here in my new capacity."
On her part, Bakoyannis thanked Clinton and expressed her joy "being in Washington again and looking forward to our cooperation."
 Greek FM satisfied with talks in WashingtonWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T.Ellis)
Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis appeared here on Wednesday night "particularly satisfied" after talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which lasted 45 minutes.
Bakoyannis also ascertained that a new cooperation between Greece and the U.S.A. begins, characterised by a will for deepening the strategic relationship between the two countries.
Speaking to reporters after a working luncheon with Under Secretary for Political Affairs William J. Burns and the meeting that followed with Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg, Bakoyannis referred to "positive meetings that took place in a particularly good climate."
"This is not diplomatic dialect, but the substance," she added.
"A wide range of issues of particular interest to Greece was discussed, such as Greek-Turkish relations, EU-Turkey relations and the Cyprus issue, as well as other issues of broader interest like the Middle East problem and, due to Greece's 2009 OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) presidency, the problems in Caucasus and the talks we intend to start with Russia," Bakoyannis said.
The Greek foreign minister, whose three-day visit to Washington ended on Wednesday night (Greek time), was due to depart for New York later in the night.
"I completed my contacts with the new U.S. administration by meeting Mrs Clinton as well as all State Department cadres," Bakoyannis told the press.
"The talks were positive, held in a particularly good climate, constructive, and I do not say this in the diplomatic dialect but in substance, and I believe that this is the beginning of a good cooperation, to which we will advance in the coming months. Mrs Clinton was very clear. She spoke of a relationship of strategic importance, which will be taken over by very specific working groups that will elaborate and debate on some issues of particular interest to the two countries. Mrs Clinton has proposed the broadening of this Greece-U.S. strategic relationship and cooperation, on specific affairs such as those preoccupying the OSCE and Balkan and Middle East issues," the Greek foreign minister added.
 Foreign ministry on Bakoyannis, Clinton meetingForeign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos earlier on Wednesday stressed the significance of a visit by Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis to the United States, especially her meeting later the same day with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"I believe that it is an important visit. First of all, it is taking place shortly after the new U.S. administration took over and gives Greece the opportunity and possibility, precisely within a short space of time, to present its positions, views, concerns but also proposals on a series of issues. Whether these concern broader issues or mainly top priority issues for Greece, such as the situation in the Balkans, the Cyprus problem or our relations with Turkey," Koumoutsakos said in statements to the state-run satellite TV channel NET.
The spokesman said that the Greek side had high hopes for the results of the meeting between Bakoyannis and Clinton, especially in terms of the Greece's request to be included in the U.S. visa waiver programme. Koumoutsakos anticipated that close cooperation on this issue between Greek and U.S. authorities will lead to a final solution within the current year.
"Its waiver for Greek citizens wishing to visit the United States is necessary. It is necessary for practical but also for symbolic reasons," he noted, adding that it was also "just".
Resolving this will be "a step reaffirming the traditional friendship of two modern, democratic countries with shared principles and values," Koumoutsakos said.
 Greek FM to address UNSC on FridayNEW YORK (ANA-MPA/P.Panagiotou)
Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis will refer to the 2009 Greek chair of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) priorities, during an address at the UN's Security Council, on Friday afternoon (Greek time).
Before her speech, the Greek foreign minister is expected to meet Security Council President, Japan's UN Ambassador Yukio Takasu.
On Thursday night (Greek time) Bakoyannis will be meeting with Matthew Nimetz, the UNSG's special mediator on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's (FyRoM) name dispute, before holding talks with U.S. UN Ambassador Susan Rice.
 FM talks in WashingtonWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/T.Ellis)
Developments in the Middle East and relations with Russia were at the crux of Greek foreign minister and OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) chairperson Dora Bakoyannis meetings in Washington on Tuesday with the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, while developments in Greek-Turkish relations, the prospects for a solution of the Cyprus issue and Turkey's role in the ongoing process under the aegis of the UN, as well as the FYROM name issue, were also examined.
During her meeting with the Congressional committee dealing with the OSCE, the role of the current Greek chairmanship of the organization was discussed, as well as the renewal of the OSCE's mission in Georgia.
Bakoyannis stressed the need for abolition as soon as possible of the visa requirement for Greek citizens wishing to visit the US and for Greece's entry into the US's Visa Waiver Program.
Bakoyannis was due on Tuesday night (US time) to meet with House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, after which she would attend US president Barack Obama's address to a joint meeting of the House and Senate.
The Greek foreign minister met earlier Tuesday with Obama's National Security Adviser General James Jones and members of Congress.
Speaking to Greek state NET television station afterwards, Bakoyannis said she had ascertained good knowledge of the issues and understanding on the part of Gen. Jones and the Congressional members, as well as a desire for cooperation.
Bakoyannis said she had initiated on Tuesday a series of meetings with the new US government, with her meeting with Gen. Jones, adding that they had the opportunity to discuss a large number of issues.
"It was a lengthy and very good meeting, held in a particularly good climate," Bakoyannis said, adding that "we discussed issues of wider international interest which, of course, also fall under the competency of the OSCE chairmanship, issues that will be discussed at the next NATO summit, and naturally issues of specific Greek interest."
Bakoyannis continued that she briefed Jones on Greek-Turkish relations, the Cyprus issue and the FYROM issue, while the also discussed the Visa Waiver program, which she said was always an aspired target.
She said it had been a good and useful meeting, as were her meetings in the Senate, where she briefed the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee in-depth.
 Papandreou chairs party meeting on economyMain opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou on Wednesday chaired a meeting of party officials on the economy, during which he accused Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis of going to Sunday's EU extraordinary summit on the economy "without a national agenda".
Papandreou said Karamanlis should put forward five issues at the summit, namely, evolution of the Stability and Growth Pact, given that the target was developmental goals and not more flexibility; an increase in the EU budget; terms of operation of the European Central Bank (ECB); issuing an EU-bond with European resources, and finally, an EU initiative on southeastern Europe and the Balkans.
Papandreou warned that the Greek prime minister must not agree to bilateral arrangements and dual supervision (of excessive deficit procedures).
Europe needs to remember the cohesion policies and such issues as the Greek tourism sector, correspondingly to now other countries have their automobile industry, for example, at the crux of their interests, Papandreou said, adding that the government lacked a view regarding the EU "because its only concern is remaining in power".
The PASOK leader also said that the global economic crisis has already reached Greece, adding that this was indicated by the problems in various branches and by layoffs, and charged that Greece had no structured plan for tackling the crisis, nor packages of measures, unlike the other EU countries.
As an example, Papandreou said the "Karamanlis package" for the tourism sector has not been activated, while there was a major inadequacy in the function of the TEMPE (Small and Micro Size Businesses Guarantee Fund).
"They're conducting economic policy via leaks," Papandreou said, adding that the state needed to move to the forefront, but "not the clientele, wasteful and ineffective state that has been created by ND".
 Papariga urges defiance of EU court ruling on retirement ageCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga on Wednesday said that Greece should refuse to comply with a European Court decision to equate retirement ages for men and women in Greece and scrap positive discrimination in favour of women.
She urged "defiance for the decisions of the Euro-court and all the choices of the European Union," in comments on a report by the European Court of Justice on the issue.
According to Papariga, the five year difference in retirement ages for men and women needed to exist because of the harsher living and working conditions endured by women and for special biological reasons, such as motherhood etc.
"As long as women are forced to shoulder difficult burdens, this positive discrimination should exist. The decision should not be enforced," she said.
In comments on Wednesday's cabinet meeting and the spending cuts announced by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, Papariga said that these sought to shift the burden of the crisis on the working classes.
"The crisis has begun, it will be more acute during 2009 and we believe that it will continue during 2010. The meetings held by the government have only one goal: to engineer the hoodwinking of workers and place the burden exclusively upon them," she stressed.
In comments on Sunday's sensational repeat escape by two convicts from Korydallos prison in a helicopter, Papariga said that there was clear political responsibility for the poor state of the prison system and for the specific escape attempt, regardless of whether individual prison staff were involved in it.
About the five people facing charges over the escape, she stressed that an attempt was being made to show that the government was getting to the root of the problem.
"Even if these people are responsible, which I cannot say before the trial is over, they are not the 'root'," she emphasised.
 Papariga meets unpaid 'Help at Home' staffCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Aleka Papariga on Wednesday urged Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos to finally settle the problems surrounding the "Help at Home" programme, after meeting trade unionists representing its unpaid workforce.
Following the meeting, Papariga said that many people employed by the programme had not been paid for a period of between two and seven months, while their jobs were not secure and there was an effort by local authorities to prevent a resolution of the problems, even though the work they did had great social value.
She also stressed that KKE was against resorting to the staff selection council ASEP on this issue:
"These people have been hired all these years, they have worked and been properly hired and the issue of giving them permanent jobs must be settled. We also seek an extension of the programme, which will cover all needs and whose funding will be covered by the state, with the job of local authorities being to point out local needs," she said.
 Interview with Deputy Agriculture Minister Michalis Papadopoulos"Any government containing individuals and rationales that ruled the country just five years ago will be unable to manage the crisis," Deputy Agricultural Development and Food Minister Michalis Papadopoulos said in an exclusive interview with ANA-MPA.
Papadopoulos stressed that he is against early elections, believes that the current government can manage the crisis in a reliable manner and pointed out that for the time being Greece is experiencing the economic crisis only "superficially" as a result of the government's moves and the economic policy being followed.
As regards the farm sector and its prospects after 2013 when subsidies will cease, Papadopoulos pointed out that the Agricultural Policy Council will be a significant tool for farmers.
The deputy minister stressed that he trusts the farmers completely and believes that they can cultivate the appropriate crops, to the appropriate degree and at the right time. "This is our goal and obligation and that's what we are trying to do through the Agricultural Policy Council and the dialogue underway," he pointed out.
 Parliament to get advance notice of draft bills after March 30In a letter sent to all ministers and deputy ministers on Wednesday, Parliament President Dimitris Sioufas reminded them of their new obligation to give Parliament advance notice of upcoming draft legislation that they intend to table for discussion.
Sioufas explained that under the modified Parliamentary regulations introduced in June 2008, ministers are now required to inform the relevant standing committee in Parliament about their intention to table draft legislation, outlining its general framework and intent, at least two days prior to the session at which it will be discussed.
The obligation extends to draft bills that are laid open to public debate, on which Parliament should be notified as a priority so that the role of Parliamentary committees is enhanced and MPs properly and promptly informed.
The new rules come into force after March 30, as decided by the Parliament president, and seek to upgrade the relationship between legislative and executive power.
 EU Commissioner Hubner meets Development ministerEU funds earmarked for green energy projects in Greece, through a Fourth Community Support Framework program, would be increased by 4.0 pct, Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hubner told reporters, after a meeting with Greek Development Minister Kostis Hatzidakis in Athens on Wednesday.
Hubner said a Third Community Support Framework program would end in June this year, giving Greece enough time to fully absorb EU funds, while she stressed that the EU was focusing on green economy and supporting small- and medium-sized enterprises amid a severe economic crisis.
The Commissioner urged Greek enterprises to invest on innovation and expressed her satisfaction over progress of a government-sponsored program to offer financial support to SMEs.
Speaking to reporters, the Greek minister said the government would not spare "one single euro" from EU funds and underlined the significance of efforts made by Greek SMEs to use technology and adopt innovation.
 Commissioner Hubner meets PM, PavlopoulosEU Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hubner expressed her satisfaction over Greece's high absorption rates of European funds during a meeting with Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos here on Wednesday evening.
At the meeting, the completion of 13 Regional Operational Programmes of a Third Community Support Framework (2000-2006), the positive course of a public administration reform programme, the decrease of administrative burdens and the acceleration of procedures in public administration were ascertained.
"There is no question of losing community funds that were allocated to Greece," Pavlopoulos told reporters after the meeting.
Hubner, who was earlier received by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, will next visit Ioannina in Epirus, northwestern Greece.
 Hubner, Hatzidakis to address R&D seminar in Athens on ThursdayA one-day seminar entitled "Innovation, Research & Development in the Framework of European Regional Policy" will get underway in Athens on Thursday with European Commissioner Danuta Hübner as the keynote speaker.
Greek Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis will also address the seminar on the theme of "R&D in Greece: Developments and Prospects", followed by Athens Medical School President Prof. Christodoulos Stefanidis.
Top European officials who will address the event - held at the Zappeion Hall in downtown Athens -- include Gerhard Stahl, the secretary-general of the EU's Committee of the Regions; Dutch MEP Lambert van Nistelrooij, a member of the EP's regional development committee and the EPP coordinator on the specific committee; Tytti Tuppurainen, the chairwoman of the council of Oulu region, Finland's innovation-friendly district, and Giovanni Colombo, a member of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology's governing board.
The seminar is organised in Athens by Greek MEP Emmanouil Angelakas, under the auspices of European Parliament.
 Gov't axes banks' dividend payoutThe government on Wednesday tabled an amendment in Parliament restricting dividend payments by domestic banks participating in a government-sponsored 28-billion-euro programme to boost liquidity in the Greek economy.
Under the amendment, tabled by the economy and finance ministry, participating banks will not be allowed to pay a cash dividend to shareholders, but only shares that will not be the result of share buy-back schemes. The amendment also envisages that return of preferred stocks issues to foreign investors will be exempted from the restriction.
Banks participating in the plan are also not allowed to launch share buy-back programmes, while they are given an extension -- until May 19, 2009 -- to reach general shareholders meetings' decisions over share capital increase schemes.
 Greece featured in Utazas 2009 tourism exhibitionGreece will be the featured country of the Utazas 2009 tourism exhibition - one of the most important travel and tourism trade fairs in central and eastern Europe - that will take place in Budapest, Hungary from Thursday until Sunday.
Greece is the top tourism destination among Hungarians for package holidays and the second holiday destination overall after neighbouring Croatia, while figures show that 150,000 Hungarians choose Greece annually, out of a total of 650,000 that opt to have a holiday abroad.
Its spot as featured country will allow extensive promotion of the country's tourism, trade, cuisine and culture, and is expected to attract yet more Hungarian visitors but also promote business partnerships between the two countries in tourism.
Apart from the various stalls and pavilions of Greek travel firms and the Greek National Tourism Organisation, Greece's presence will also be marked by an official reception, performances of Greek music and lessons in Greek cooking, a section on Greece in the Utazas magazine, posters around Budapest and a one-month photography exhibition organised by the GNTO in the Budapest municipal hall, with the assistance of the Greek Embassy in Hungary.
 Greece-Iran trade relations examinedDeputy Agriculture Development Minister Constantine Kiltidis met on Wednesday with Iranian Ambassador to Greece Mehdi Honardoost.
The need to strengthen trade relations between Greece and Iran was reconfirmed at the the talks, according to an announcement. Iran is interested in acquiring knowhow on agricultural production. Iran has asked for the training in Greece of Iranian personnel, and it was agreed that a farm training course envisaged in a Memorandum of Cooperation, be continued in June.
 Mobilizations suspended by striking TIR truck driversStriking truck drivers lifted their blockades of customs posts and border crossings across Greece late on Tuesday following a decision by the Federation of International Transports (TIR) truck drivers (OFAE) to suspend mobilizations at a meeting held in Thessaloniki.
The customs posts at Evzoni and Doirani, in northern Greece, as well as the border crossing of Promahonas and the seaports of Patras, Igoumenitsa amd Corinth were blockaded by lorries and other large vehicles for six days with protesting truckers blocking access to other vehicles transporting goods allowing, however, passage to private cars and tourist coaches.
The mobilizations were suspended following separate meetings between OFAE representatives and officials of the ministries of finance and transport and after a decision was reached to proceed with the drawing up of a draft law tightening checks by mixed monitoring units.
Furthermore, local governments in prefectures bordering to neighboring countries and the managements of the three major seaports were notified to intensify control mechanisms in the country's entry and exit points aimed at tackling the phenomenon of illegal migrants boarding and hiding in trucks.
 More flights to Greece by Etihad AirwaysMELBOURNE (ANA-MPA / S. Hatzimanolis)
The decision by Emirates Airlines to commence a second daily flight between Athens and Dubai on March 29 in combination with the Melbourne-Athens route to be launched soon by Etihad Airways will boost the number of passengers travelling from Australia to Greece.
The Etihad Airways flights from Melbourne to Athens will commence in June and will be conducted every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday with a stopover in Abu Dhabi.
 Civil servants' union strike on Wed.The country's largest civil servants' union, ADEDY, held a nation-wide strike on Wednesday in demand of pay hikes and greater funding for civil servants' pension funds. According to reports, a portion of teachers went on strike, while the industrial action also affected tax bureaus and other public funds.
A union representing public hospital physicians also declared a strike. A rally was held in the morning in a central Athens square.
 Titan Group reports lower 2008 resultsTitan Group on Tuesday said its pre-tax, interest and amortisation earnings (EBITDA) fell by 11 pct last year to 380 million euros, while net profits dropped 13 pct to 208 million euros and earnings per share eased to 2.53 euros, down from 2.84 euros per share in 2007.
The group said turnover rose 5.0 pct to 1.578 billion euros and noted that turnover would have grown by 8.0 pct and EBITDA would have fallen by 10 pct if measured on fixed currency exchange rates.
Titan Group attributed its lower results to a continuing collapse of demand for building materials in the United States, to a decline in cement consumption in Greece and sky-rocketing solid fuel prices.
The group's board will seek shareholders' approval for a plan to pay a 0.42-euro per share dividend, down 44 pct from 2007.
 Trade deficit up 14.4% in '08Greece's trade deficit widened by 14.4 pct in 2008 to 41.032 billion euros, from 35.867 billion euros in the previous year, the National Statistics Agency said on Wednesday. The statistics agency, in a report said the trade deficit, excluding oil products, rose by 1.377 billion euros, or 4.6 pct in 2008. The value of import-arrivals totaled 58.365 billion euros in the January-December 2008 period, from 53.006 billion euros in 2007, for an increase of 10.1 pct, while excluding oils the increase was 4.0 pct, or 1.779 billion euros. The value of export-deliveries grew 1.1 pct to 17.333 billion euros last year, from 17.139 billion euros in 2007, while excluding oils the rise was 2.7 pct or 401.9 million euros.
The trade deficit fell 18.6 pct in December to 2.240 billion euros, from 2.752 billion euros in December 2007, while excluding oils, the deficit fell by 5.4 pct or 124.2 million euros.
 Moody's revises outlook for Greek bondsMoody's Investors Service on Wednesday revised the outlook of Greek state bonds to stable from positive, rating Greek government bonds to A1.
Moody's Sovereign Risk Group's vice-president Arnaud Mares said "the change in outlook reflects Moody's view that the Greek government's credit rating is adequately justified at A1 and that it is not possible an upgrading within the next 12 to 18 months".
Moody's acknowledged that a synchronized global downturn has burdened the Greek economy, as other advanced economies, with growth freezing and the percentage of public debt reversing a declining trend prevailing in previous years. "However, Greece is affected to a smaller extent until today, compared with several other countries of similar credit rating," Mares underlined.
Moody's analysts stressed that although the general government's debt was still high, private sector debt was smaller compared with other advanced economies.
 Info-Quest submits non-binding offer for Rainbow SAInfo-Quest on Wednesday submitted a non-binding offer to buy 79.6 pct in Rainbow SA at a price of 1.46 euros per share. The offer is valid until May 15, 2009, pending a legal and financial control expected to be completed by the end of March. The two companies were engaged in negotiations over the past three weeks.
 Greek stocks end 1.55 pct lowerGreek stocks ended lower at the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, pushing the composite index of the market to new six-year lows. The index fell 1.55 pct to end at 1,521.49 points, with turnover at 103.1 million euros, of which 5.3 million euros were block trades.
Most sectors moved lower, with the Telecommunications (4.84 pct), Insurance (3.94 pct), Financial Services (3.59 pct) and Banks (3.15 pct) suffering the heaviest percentage losses of the day, while Personal/Home Products (3.34 pct), Oil (1.04 pct) and Constructions (0.98 pct) scored gains.
The FTSE 20 index fell 2.33 pct, the FTSE 40 index rose 0.53 pct and the FTSE 80 index eased 0.51 pct. Broadly, decliners led advancers by 120 to 87 with another 55 issues unchanged.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +1.04%
Personal & Household: +3.34%
Raw Materials: -0.79%
Travel & Leisure: -1.13%
Food & Beverages: +0.34%
Financial Services: -3.59%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OPAP and OTE.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 4.42
Public Power Corp (PPC): 12.38
HBC Coca Cola: 9.80
Hellenic Petroleum: 5.44
National Bank of Greece: 9.40
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 3.94
Bank of Piraeus: 4.00
Titan Cement Company: 14.08
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was traded at a discount of 1.65 percent in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover remaining a low 35.576 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 7,111 contracts worth 26.928 million euros, with 31,367 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 11,474 contracts worth 8.650 million euros, with investment interest focusing on National Bank's contracts (3,510), followed by Eurobank (633), OTE (926), OPAP (967), Alpha Bank (826), Intracom (443) and Mytilineos (422).
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German state bonds was 244 basis points in the Greek electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, with turnover a low 685 million euros, of which 365 million were buy orders and the remaining 320 million euros were sell orders. The 10-year benchmark bond (July 20, 2018) was the most heavily traded security with a turnover of 160 million euros, with the Greek bond yielding 5.45 pct and the German Bund 2.99 pct.
In interbank markets, interest rates remained largely unchanged. The 12-month Euribor rate was 2.05 pct, the six-month rate 1.95 pct, the three-month rate 1.84 pct and the one-month rate 1.55 pct.
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.289
Pound sterling 0.895
Danish kroner 7.509
Swedish kroner 11.396
Japanese yen 124.75
Swiss franc 1.496
Norwegian kroner 8.816
Canadian dollar 1.607
Australian dollar 1.984
 Greeks consider corruption country's second most important problemGreeks consider corruption as being the second most important problem, after high cost of living, facing the country, according to a survey conducted, among 4,720 persons over 18 all over Greece, by the statics department of the Athens Economics University.
According to the survey, 44 per cent of Greeks think that receiving bribes constitutes the first element of corruption.
 Tribute to C. P. Cavafy by HFC Centre in TiranaThe Hellenic Foundation for Culture (HFC) will launch the activities of its Centre in Tirana, housed in the city's Arsakeio Schoo,l on March 5 with an exhibition tribute to poet Constantine P. Cavafy titled "Travelling with C. P. Cavafy".
The exhibition will run through April 6 and includes archival material (a production of the Centre for Neo-Hellenic Studies/Cavafy Archive) and a book-fair on Cavafy's poetry in translation produced by HFC in collaboration with the National Book Centre of Greece (EKEBI) and the Cavafy Museum in Alexandria, Egypt.
The exhibition will be inaugurated by Culture Ministry General Secretary Thodoris Dravillas and HFC President Professor George Babiniotis.
 Ecumenical Patriarch to visit Lesvos this weekEcumenical Patriarchate Bartholemew I (Vartholomeos) arrives on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos on Thursday for a three-day visit.
The Patriach is scheduled to take meetings with local officials, including Merchant Marine & Island Policy Minister Anastasis Papaligouras, and will visit a handful of local parishes and cathedrals.
 Trial of prison guards implicated in latest chopper escape beginsThe trial of four prison guards and the helicopter pilot implicated in the helicopter getaway of two notorious convicts from the Korydallos penitentiary near Piraeus began on Wednesday in a court in the port city.
Testimony on Wednesday mostly focused on witnesses for the defendants.
 Man charged for attack on cleaning staff trade unionistA 48-year-old Albanian national arrested as a suspect for the December 23 acid attack against 42-year-old Bulgarian national Konstantina Kouneva, active in the Athens-area cleaners' union, was charged with attempted manslaughter and then released without restrictions pending trial after testifying before a public prosecutor on Wednesday.
According to police, the suspect had blocked Kouneva's way near her house in Petralona, Athens while an accomplice threw acid at her -- an unprecedented attack by local standards.
His defence attorney stated that his client denies the charges, pointing out that he has stressed in his deposition that he and Kouneva were colleagues, clarifying that he had asked for the union's assistance in a dispute with his employers concerning unpaid wages. He has also testified that he called her at her home a few hours after the attack to learn about her condition.
According to police, the telephone call was made before the attack had made news headlines. Initially, the defendant had denied that he made the call.
 Hand grenade attack against immigrant centreAn unidentified individual threw a hand grenade outside an immigrant centre in Exarchia, Athens, where the Network for Civil and Social Rights is also housed, shattering window panes and causing limited material damage.
At the time of the attack on Tuesday night, the centre was full of people holding a meeting.
 Ten kilos of heroin seized at the Greek-Albanian bordersA 23-year-old Albanian national was arrested by Albanian border guards at the border crossing with Krystallopigi in Florina, northwestern Greece when he attempted to smuggle into Greece a total of 10 kilos of heroin hidden in his car's spare tyre.
The Greek authorities are investigating his involvement in other drug trafficking cases considering that his car had Greek licence plates.
 Greek films in New YorkNEW YORK (ANA-MPA/P.Panagiotou)
A series of films highlighting the new Greek cinema are currently projected at Greece's Press and Communication Office here. The projections fall in the framework of programmes for the promotion of Greek culture in New York.
The first film presented was Olga Maleas's "Godfather for the first time", while Tassos Boulmetis's success "A Touch of Spice" will follow.
 Massenet opera 'Thais' at Megaron in MarchJules Massenet's opera "Thaïs" will be staged for the first time in Greece at the Athens Concert Hall (Megaron) in March.
The opera is composed on a French libretto based on the novel Thaïs by Anatole France and was first performed at the Paris Opera Garnier in March 1894.
Thaïs takes place in Egypt in the 4th Century AD, where a Cenobite monk, Athanaël, attempts to convert Thaïs, an Alexandrian courtesan, and a devotée of Venus, to Christianity. However, he discovers, too late, that his obsession with her is rooted in lust; ironically, while the courtesan's true purity of heart is revealed, so is the religious man's baser nature. The work deals with religious eroticism, and has had several controversial productions.
French director Arnaud Bernard told a press conference on Wednesday that Anatole France was a "pro-communist bourgeois who adhered to Voltaire's views and attacked the clergy in a hard manner."
The director said his effort focuses on highlighting the contradictions that animate the opera, such as sanctity/laicity, Alexandrian luxury/desert asceticism, virtue/sin.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceThe aftermath of the repeat helicopter jail break by felon Vassilis Paleokostas and the economy were the main front-page items in Athens' newspapers on Wednesday.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "The escape (from Kordyallos prison) by Paleokostas and (Albanian convice) Rizaj step-by-step, as four prison guards and the helicopter's pilot face charges".
APOGEVMATINI: "10,562 hirings in the public sector".
AVGHI: "The coup de grace for the small and medium size merchant - 10 new malls planned in Attica prefecture and five in the rest of Greece".
AVRIANI: "According to new ALCO opinion poll, 'no one' sweeping with 46 percent (of the respondents with respect to which party was capable of managing the crisis) - The political crisis deepens".
CHORA: "Sweeping changes in ELAS (Greek Police)".
ELEFTHEROS: "Economy and security are 'mobile bombs' - The government now sees big threats for the country".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Receipts for tuition, clothing, electrical appliances returning (for submission to Tax Burea in income tax statements) - Tax deduction for additional expenses as of this year".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Picture of 'escape' by the state with the consecutive incidents of corruption".
ESTIA: "No progress in the state - Immense blame for New Democracy".
ETHNOS: "Four in 10 ships in downtown Athens closing due to the crisis".
KATHIMERINI: "The parties grumbling, the state tottering".
LOGOS: "Public sector 'freezing' (in nationwide strike on Wednesday called by ADEDY) - Central rally at 11:00 a.m. at Klafthmonos Square".
NIKI: "Escape from the responsibilities - Karamanlis and ministers searching for scapegoats".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Organization of class struggle against the aspirations of the plutocracy".
TA NEA: "8 weapons stolen from policemen's homes - Seven burglaries in space of one month".
TO VIMA: "European Court 'bomb' on women's pensions - Athens fears wave of early retirement (by women) in civil service".
VRADYNI: "The responsibilities also escaped - We're reliving the 'days of 2006', with many words but no substance".
 Leaders continue discussion on property issueNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The leaders of the two communities in Cyprus, President of the Republic Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, held Wednesday their 20th meeting in the framework of UN-led direct negotiations.
UN Secretary-General's Special Representative to Cyprus Taye-Brook Zerihoun said after the meeting, which lasted over three hours, that the two leaders had at first a tete a tete meeting for one hour and 45 minutes.
After that meeting, they continued their discussions on the criteria for the property issue and had an extensive discussion, according to Zerihoun.
He added that the two leaders have decided to continue these discussions next Thursday 5th of March and after that they will move on to discuss EU matters.
Asked why the leaders were still discussing the criteria and not the substance of the property issue, Zerihoun said the leaders started exchanging views on the principles that will guide the discussions and for the past two meetings they have been discussing the criteria to define the parameters under which this discussion will continue.
"After that they will make a decision whether those discussions could continue in other fora", he said, not ruling out the possibility that one option could be a discussion between the aides of the leaders of the two communities, Presidential Commissioner George Iacovou and Turkish Cypriot leaderÔs advisor Ozdil Nami.
President Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat are meeting in the framework of the UN-led direct negotiations, which began last September with a view to reaching a solution of the Cyprus problem. The talks aim at reunifying the island, divided since the Turkish invasion of 1974.
 Foreign minister says Israel will not recognise Turkish occupation regimeLARNACA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcos Kyprianou said on Wednesday that Israel would not be recognising the puppet regime in the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus, noting that information that Israel was setting up offices in the occupied areas and that there would be ferryboat connections, were private initiatives.
He added that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is showing understanding to the concerns of the Cypriot government regarding these issues and noted that Israel supports UN Security Council resolutions and decisions on Cyprus.
Speaking at Larnaca Airport on his return from a short trip to Israel and asked if Israel was trying to indirectly recognise the puppet regime by opening offices in the Turkish occupied areas, Kyprianou said ''there is no such issue.''
''All these developments are private initiatives. We discussed them with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our interlocutors and they are showing understanding. It is an issue on which we will continue discussions and coordination,'' he added.
Kyprianou also said that ''for Israel there is no issue of recognising the pseudostate, on the contrary they support the Security Council resolutions and decisions.''
''It is an issue we had the opportunity to elaborate on today (Wednesday), to express our concerns and we will be in contact with the Israeli ministry to give solutions to these matters,'' he said and pointed out that ''there is understanding on behalf of Israel towards our concerns.''
Asked if the Israeli government could block any private initiatives, Kyprianou said ''all aspects concerning international law and the Israeli law are being examined,'' adding that ''it is on this issue that there will be further discussions between the two ministries, between the two governments.''
Kyprianou added that ''Cyprus maintains good relations with Israel, even if in some issues we have different approaches.''
During his stay in Israel, Kyprianou met with the President of the country and discussed efforts to solve the Cyprus problem, as well as sectors for further cooperation, such as research, technology and health.
He also met with the Minister for Infrastructure, who is in charge of energy and water resources management, as well as with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to discuss bilateral and regional issues, as well as the Cyprus problem and relations between Israel and the EU.
Asked if he also discussed the issue of Monchegorsk ship, the cargo of which were unloaded and stored in National Guard warehouses, Kyprianou said he had, adding that ''we were in touch with the government of Israel, which has expressed satisfaction over the way the Cypriot government handled the issue'' and for ''the implementation of Security Council resolutions.''
 EP President says Turkish exercises in Cyprus undermine peace processNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
President of the European Parliament Hans Gert Pottering notes in a letter that exercises by the Turkish army in Cyprus undermine the sense of compromise and commitment necessary to achieve a successful conclusion of the peace process on the island.
Pottering was replying to a question submitted by Cypriot MEP Marios Matsakis on 19 November 2008 regarding a shell fired by Turkish forces in Cyprus near the ceasefire line, which caused damages to a house.
Matsakis noted that there were no casualties in the incident, since the occupants of the house were away at the time, and urged the President of the European Parliament, the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council to protest to the Turkish government.
In his letter dated 20 February 2009, Pottering says that ''in the resolution of 28 September 2005 on the opening of negotiations with Turkey, the European Parliament stated that the withdrawal of Turkish forces is a necessary step forward on the way to further easing tension, resuming dialogue between the parties and preparing for a lasting solution in Cyprus.''
''During the course of the ongoing peace negotiations aimed at reaching a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem, such exercises by the Turkish army do regrettably undermine the sense of compromise and commitment necessary to achieve a successful conclusion of the peace process,'' he says.
He also expresses his sympathy with the victim, whose house was damage, adding that ''our institution continues to monitor the situation in Cyprus closely.''
 House President discusses Cyprus problem with US Ambassador to GreeceNICOSIA (CNA/ANA-MPA)
The Cyprus problem and recent developments mainly concerning the direct negotiations between the two sides were the focus of a meeting on Wednesday between President of the House of Representatives Marios Garoyian and US Ambassador to Greece Daniel Speckhard, who is currently visiting Cyprus.
According to an official press release, Garoyian said the solution of the Cyprus problem should be in line with international law and UN resolutions, and should be viable and functional and serve the interests of both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.
He added that the key to a solution was in Ankara and expressed his disappointment over the fact that there have been no gestures of good will on behalf of Turkey in the direction of a settlement.
Garoyian also pointed out that the United States and the international community in general should exert influence on Turkey to promote a solution in the framework of international law and the UN, noting that such a settlement would contribute to peace and stability in the broader region.
Regarding Turkey's EU accession course, Garoyian said Cyprus has supported it but noted that Turkey should meet the commitments it undertook towards the EU and its member states.
Referring to the relations between Cyprus and the US, Garoyian expressed hope that the new US administration would contribute towards a solution of the Cyprus problem, based on international law and the principles, values and resolutions of the UN.
Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004, has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
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